The following article was written in 2011, in preparation of the 100th Anniversary of the Our Lady of Mount Carmel Festival in Crabtree. Excerpts taken from
The Crabtree Story: Golden Anniversary Edition.
A Tradition Is Born
During early Spring 1911, a group of men were sitting around the "pot belly" stove in the newly established Bertolina & Ditto General Store in Crabtree. On that one particular evening, Antonio Bertolina, Tony Ditto, Vico Deglivarmini (Jomini), Nick Matro, Joe Severino, Charles Spallon and the two Viretta brothers were reminiscing about their childhood days.
Their thoughts that evening then went back to the days of the fiesta celebrations in their native Italy in honor of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. As the evening drew on and the men exchanged tales of their hometown celebrations, a thought occurred to one of the men: "Why should we reminisce about the fiesta celebration when we have enough Italians here in Crabtree to have our own celebration?" Consequently in 1911, the initial Crabtree Mount Carmel Fireworks celebration was born, sponsored by the above mentioned gentlemen.
For the first celebration, a total of $75 was spent. The money was contributed by the committeemen. The program consisted of a solemn high Mass in St. Bartholomew Church, with Benedictine Father Nicolai Albanese as celebrant. During the consecration of the Mass, the Keystone Fireworks Company of Dunbar discharged a battery of fireworks that were placed around the church. Immediately following the Mass, the Italians of the community marched through town in honor of the Madonna Del Carmins (The Cloud of Carmel in Italy). In the evening, a band concert by the Crabtree Band climaxed the festivities.
For the second annual celebration, which was held on July 16, 1912, the committee requested that the Jamison Coal & Coke Company close the mine on Fireworks Day. Their request was granted and this prompted the committee to plan an all day celebration for the community. In addition to the hometown residents, people from other towns came to Crabtree that day to join the Italians in honoring Our Lady of Mount Carmel.
In 1914, the Italian Club of Crabtree was organized and began sponsoring the fireworks. By this time, the Mount Carmel Fireworks were still a rather small event in comparison to later years. However, through the efforts of Pete Corleto, Gaetano D'Angelo, Joe Panigal, Atillio Mangini, Sabatino Sorice, Louie Ferri,"Big Louie" Manno, Luigi Pallottini, Nazzareno Emili, Tom Trainer, Ralph Pantalone, Orlando Fulgenzio and Joe Ponderendolph, the celebration began to flourish on a much larger scale. Bigger and better fireworks were displayed, Italian bands from Pittsburgh were hired to assist the Crabtree band in providing the festive music, and various sporting and racing events were added to the program.
The Italian Club continued sponsoring the Mount Carmel Fireworks until 1938. The following year, the Crabtree Volunteer Fire Department took over the celebration as a means to raise money for the new department. The Fire Department continued to sponsor the celebration in 1940-41.
During the war years, 1942-45, there were no fireworks in Crabtree. However, during those years, a Mass was held in St. Bartholomew Church to commemorate the feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. True to tradition, the fireworks were resumed in 1946.
In 1950, none of the other community organizations were willing to carry on the tradition and it appeared that the annual Crabtree Fireworks had come to an end. However, during the late spring of 1950, Benedictine Father Method Mraz, Rizzo DeFabo, Anthony Salandro, and a group of volunteers from St. Bartholomew Church formed a committee and sponsored the celebration for the benefit of the church.
Until this time, the Mount Carmel celebration was strictly an Italian celebration, but under the sponsorship of the church, various community and church organizations, and people of all nationalities began taking part in the morning procession, and for the first time, the statue of Our Lady of Mount Carmel was carried in the procession. That year, rain threatened the celebration. In a petition for kindlier weather, Father Method placed the statue of Our Lady on the platform outside the church. In return, the weather changed and the entire program was carried out. In appreciation, people spontaneously offered tokens by pinning currency to the robe of the statue, a custom which continues to the present day.